Lebanese cabinet backs down from confronting Hezbollah

May 15th, 2008 - 8:29 am ICT by admin  

Beirut, May 15 (DPA) The Lebanese cabinet said late Wednesday it would halt actions against the Hezbollah that had prompted days of fighting between rival militias and almost plunged the country into civil war. “The cabinet decided to cancel decisions, to save the security and the coexistence in the country,” Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said after a late cabinet meeting.

Tension between the opposition Hezbollah and the ruling majority erupted after the government said it would investigate a Hezbollah telephone network and reassign airport security chief Colonel Wafik Chouckair over his alleged links to the group.

“This is a brave decision on behalf of the government to stop the bloodshed in the country,” Aridi said. “There is no winner or a loser in this issue. All we want is to save the country.”

Minutes after the decision was announced, heavy machinegun fire was heard across areas controlled by Hezbollah in Beirut’s southern suburbs to celebrate what they described as “a victory” over the Western-backed government.

A Lebanese security source told DPA that all blockaded roads and the Beirut airport will be opened by Thursday.

The cabinet statement came as an Arab League delegation held talks Wednesday with Lebanon’s rival camps in a bid to broker a settlement to end the deadly sectarian clashes, which have driven Lebanon close to civil war.

“The delegation is continuing its talks with the Lebanese rivals with optimism,” a member close to the Arab delegation told DPA.

The team, headed by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani and Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa, held talks with Lebanese House Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Fouad Seniora, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, opposition Christian leader Michela Aoun, Majority Leader Saad Hariri, former president Amin Gemayel and Lebanese forces’ Christian leader Samir Geagea.

The delegation had issued no statements since arriving in Beirut.

The tension between the opposition and the majority erupted after the government said it would investigate a Hezbollah telephone network and reassign airport security chief Colonel Wafik Chouckair over his alleged links to Hezbollah.

Clashes turned deadly on May 8, after Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah accused the government of declaring war against his party with the investigation.

The showdown saw Hezbollah gunmen seize large parts of west Beirut last week, plunging an already fragile nation into fear and uncertainty.

Opposition gunmen withdrew from Beirut’s streets Saturday after the Lebanese Army acted to overturn the decisions.

“The biggest problem that we need to tackle is Hezbollah’s relations with the state of Lebanon,” said Geagea, who described the talks led by Arab leaders as “objective” and “fruitful”.

“There is no need to withdraw the two government decisions,” Geagea said, stressing that he preferred dialogue within Lebanon to talks outside the country.

Reports indicated that the Arab League delegation is keen to invite the Lebanese factions to Qatar to sit around a dialogue table.

Topping the agenda of the delegation, which arrived earlier Wednesday in Beirut, is an to end an anti-government protest campaign by Hezbollah militants and their allies that has forced the shutdown of a number of major roads in Lebanon, including the highway to the Beirut airport.

No commercial flights have been scheduled from Lebanon’s only international airport for the seventh straight day, an airport official said.

The sectarian fighting is the worst since the Lebanese civil war ended in 1990 and has left at least 82 people dead and around 250 wounded in six bloody days.

A relative calm has settled over the country since Tuesday, after the Lebanese Army said it was ready to use force to restore order.

US President George W. Bush, who arrived Wednesday in Israel, warned Iran and Syria on the eve of his trip that the international community would not allow Lebanon to fall under foreign domination again and vowed to speed military aide to the Lebanese Army.

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